Archive for the Reflection Category

The Solar System: 2015

Posted in Blog, Reflection with tags on July 14, 2015 by slateman

20150714_pluto-nh-ehealth1.0

Bill Bryson wrote, in 2003, “When I was a boy, the solar system was thought to contain thirty moons. The total now is “at least ninety,” about a third of which have been found in just the last ten years.”

Bryson was born in 1951 and therefore “a boy” would suggest the mid-1960s, more or less. The book, A Brief History Of Nearly Everything was a charming read but it itself is now over a decade old. If ~twenty moons were discovered in the 1990s alone, I suppose it’s not surprising to think that since 2003 that number has gone from “at least ninety” to 146. That’s not counting the 27 awaiting confirmation. In one decade we’ve discovered over 80 moons? Since Bryson’s boy years, we’ve found over 140!? There can be no doubt we’ve living through a wonderful age of space exploration.

As an armchair fan of astronomy, it’s remarkable to think we’ve done so much just in my lifetime alone. Voyager 2 visited Jupiter in 1979, Saturn in 1981, Uranus in 1986 and Neptune in 1989. With Pluto’s visit (regardless of its fair demotion to a dwarf planet), we’ve now images and data on the full Solar System I was taught about as a kid.

Not including dwarf-planet moons (at least 6), here’s the tally of known moons as of July 2015:

Planet # of Moons
Mercury 0
Venus 0
Earth 1
Mars 2
Jupiter 50 (+17 awaiting confirmation)
Saturn 53 (+9 awaiting confirmation)
Uranus 27
Neptune 16 (+1 awaiting confirmation)

Jupiter and Saturn each have more than double the moons as we knew existed in the Solar System just 50 years ago. I find this all marvelous and appreciate the fact that we are living through such a spectacular time of astronomical discovery. The sad truth lingers, however. This is the last of it all. No new planets (or dwarf planets) to visit. No new probes are being planned. I sincerely hope the James Webb Space Telescope lives up to its promise (and everything goes without a hitch). The scope of that promise is only matched by its potential for failure. Not to be a downer or anything…

[Moon info from NASA]
[Humbling astronomy video just because]

THPSHD Revert Pack

Posted in Best / Worst, Blog, Games, Personal, Reflection, Tony Hawk Series on January 19, 2013 by slateman

THPS-3-HD-Revert-Pack-DLC-logo

I’m a month and a half late to the game but I’m going to come right out and say it doesn’t matter.

Playing through the THPS3HD Revert Pack was bittersweet around every corner. Every element of my game time had that tinge of sad nostalgia. See, THPS3 came out in the autumn of 2001 and it remains my least favorite of the main Tony Hawk titles. That’s saying a lot, considering there were so many. Then add the fact that my beloved Hawk site Planet Tony Hawk is now dead. Finally, as I tried to get online and couldn’t find an available game, it all hit me hard. That ‘news’ that was evident to the world years ago…Hawk Games, gaming, my entire life – they’re not quite what they used to be.

Ah, there he goes being overly-dramatic again! No, screw that. THPS 3 is the worst Hawk title and I knew it, even back when I started making money off the whole deal. I had a good ride but something changed when Hawk 3 came and every one of us who played it back in ’99-’00 knew it. See, THPS 3 was when things really started getting rushed. In order to make the PS2’s launch, in order to have THPS 4 on shelves in the autumn of 2002, in order to keep the train moving. Let’s not forget the third game appeared on nine different platforms. They money train was going and nothing was going to stop it. Now, the masses ate this shit up which kept things going, which effectively diminished the quality. So…when I boot up a game and play the Airport as a level…it doesn’t bring happy nostalgia.

thpshd_hetfieldAnyways, what do we get with the revert pack? Reverts! L.A., Canada & the Airport! Two new pro skaters & two novelty skaters! Well, for $5, that’s actually pretty good – and contrary to early reports, you can use reverts in the original THPSHD levels. As for skaters, Steve Caballero & Geoff Rowley appear and both are welcome. Rowley was in the first five Hawk games and I loved having Cab in the game. As for the other two skaters? James Hetfield! It must be great skating as him! I mean, he was a skater during the mid-80s and he busted his arm twice while doing so. Robert Trujillo is less interesting, but hey, it’s Metallica. The problem is that I’ve already beaten career mode and have zero interest in doing it again.

As for the levels, I positively hate them. All three were revisited back in THUG2 and they’re no different here. I don’t know – I think they look terrible. OK, that’s strong, but with this HD facelift, I expected things to look…better!

Finally, the revert. It was the redefining element of THPS 3 and I think that’s where problems started. While THPS 4’s spine transfers were a smaller, yet more realistic upgrade, the revert was just madness. What started with ingenuity in THPS and THPS 2 now became utter absurdity. Combos went on forever and pre-planned lines effectively reduced my creativity to a button mash-fest with balance. As I skated through the airport today, it was the same. It was 2001 all over again and for me, it wasn’t a good thing.

As an overall package it feels like it lacks the shine we all grew accustomed to in those heyday years. I may groan over THPS 3 vs other titles but it was packed with hidden areas, cheats, skaters, etc. This DLC doesn’t have any new trophies/achievements and it does a poor job of telling you precisely what you’re getting.

But listen…the DLC costs $5 and while I don’t know stats, I’m sure it’s sold a decent amount. I can’t really complain about the DLC as much as the source content. What once was a huge part of my life is now relegated to disappointment. While I went back to THPSHD a fair number of times this summer, I don’t feel much of a beckon now. I think it’d be cool to see a THPS 4 DLC with spine transfers, Kona, London? Moscow? Hmm…maybe not. THPS 4 also came with vehicles, more skitching…Hmmm. I don’t know what I want – maybe that’s the problem. Maybe it’s time for me to retire from Hawk gaming for a little while. A long while, sad as that might be.

Review: The Hobbit – An Unexpected Journey

Posted in Books, Movies, Reflection, Reviews, Tolkien, Video with tags on December 28, 2012 by slateman

poster-gandalfIn the 1990s I started reading Tolkien. In the 2000s, we were given the spectacular film conversions of The Lord Of The Rings. In the 2010s, we have another epic journey to embark upon.

I was so excited about this movie. In fact, no movie since Return Of The King had me so compelled to plunk down my cash and spend hours in a theater. Of course, in the ’90s I was young and now I’m riddled with responsibility. I think that’s what makes this more profound for me. Tolkien’s masterpieces follow us through our own epic journeys.

Perhaps this is all too dramatic, but as the New Line logo came and went, Howard Shore’s familiar tunes entered my ears and I returned to Middle Earth, it was so reassuring to see certain images on the screen precisely as I have seen them in my head for 15 years. It was all too amazing to see Erebor’s hoards of gold torn directly from the images my imagination conjured up.

While very few of the Dwarves really did the same for me, I loved their diversity (something hardly addressed in the book) and it was wonderful seeing Thorin change his opinion of Bilbo. Spanning three movies, I expected it to be slow. Martin Freeman’s portrayal of Bilbo was spot-on IMO, blundering yet innately brave, he was amazing. The scene with Gollum was another essentially identical to what I’d envisioned. I felt sadness for Smeagol, his pain and suffering. The meeting of Elrond, Gandalf, Galadriel and Saruman was total fiction, but for those of us who cared, it carried such weight. Thousands of years of knowledge, wisdom, power (and rings! All three elven rings, to be precise) all together in one meeting! And such a meeting in Rivendell for that matter! Again, it warmed my heart to return to this imaginary place. That may make no sense at all, but it was a remarkable feeling.

Dol Guldur, Radagast, Hobbiton, it was all great. I thought the Goblin King was too cheesy; I don’t understand the need to make him so goofy.

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is no LotR. That’s quite fine by me. It is not without flaws but in so many ways it was exactly what I wanted…and needed. The Misty Mountains song was amazing and I’m posting Neil Finn’s version of Song of the Lonely Mountain below because it was so phenomenal.

I can’t wait to see it again…to see The Desolation Of Smaug in a year…to feel the sadness to leave Middle Earth like I did at the Grey Havens back in 2003. To say this is all more than just a movie, more than a book, more than just a passing interest would be to lie. And it’s all just begun. :D



Planet Tony Hawk: Closed…Done…Forever

Posted in Best / Worst, Blog, Games, Personal, Reflection, Tony Hawk Series on September 13, 2012 by slateman

Back in 1999 I started what would become the largest Tony Hawk-related gaming site in the world. I would peak at over a million hits a week. I created no fewer than 400 pages of articles, previews, reviews, guides, tutorials, images, videos and editorials about Tony Hawk, his line of games, his skating, and everything in between. It was my baby (along with Crumbling Flesh). It opened doors for me to go to California several times a year, meet new friends, make connections, grow personally and professionally and to meet Hawk multiple times. I had a good run. I had a damn good run.

So, when Skate came out after seven years of annual Hawk games, something was ready to give. Another entry got some good scores but that was the beginning of the decline. We saw Activision scramble to make a pair of peripheral-required games, a motion game on the NDS, numerous mobile titles and a new download-only game. The heyday is over. It has been for a while, but today was my eye opener.

As I received Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater HD a few weeks ago, I was psyched to get back to the site. I wrote a new FAQ, started making updates to my awesome Hawk History article and got ready to do some catch up. The problem was, I couldn’t log in. My email stopped working. No one would reply to my requests. I had that inspiration and it was burning bright. It felt like it did back in the old days. Gap lists for THPS. Stat icon locations in THPS3. My empassioned slagging of THAW. Even when it was bad, it was oh-so-good. I poured my heart into this site and I was tremendously excited to continue that devoted dedication.

Today I received an email saying that all Planet sites were archived and no updates would ever be made to them again. Wait…What? Yep. Archived. Closed. Done.

Wait…WHAT?!?! Apparently someone dropped the ball because I never got an email. Even in the midst of all the crap mail I get, I never came across a message saying, “Hey, your site, you know, the one you have worked on for 13 years of your life…yeah, that one. Well, it’s going to be closing.” I never got the opportunity to say, “Goodbye.” Just one day, it was inaccessible. Two weeks of emails and waiting yielded the news. “Gone. Closed. Forever.”

First of many meetings – NYC 2001

I interrupted the writing of this article to put my kids to bed. I held my son and rocked him to sleep, feeling his hands clench and relax on my shoulder as he dozed. Is this a big deal? Listen, my four kids have their health. I have a job. It is just a game and it really wasn’t my baby; my baby boy is my baby. This post is not to whine about how I’ve been wronged but rather to rue the loss of control over something special.

It is a premature and unexpected ending of a massive 13-year journey. It is painful to know I had no say in its fate. The money ran dry years ago but that excitement of updating something you’re so proud of remained…until I realized I could no longer share that passion.

Planet Tony Hawk was the source of great happiness and pride. It allowed me to do so much, see so many things and go so many places. I enjoyed almost every minute of it. It’s been a great ride. For anyone who took part in that adventure, you know what I’m talking about. And today, I’m done with that journey forever.

Phish @ SPAC….How I Miss This Stuff

Posted in Best / Worst, Blog, Music, Reflection with tags on July 9, 2012 by slateman

The last time I saw Phish was in June of 2004 in Saratoga. The band was breaking up, my life was falling apart and it was all a very interesting time. However, those last two shows were just amazing and sadly, they represent the ending of one portion of my life.

So, as Phish returns there eight summers later, I listen to the set with utter joy, and reminisce with a bittersweet feeling to my last two Phish shows. Opening with Reba that first night, a twenty-minute Walls Of The Cave and an insane A Song I Heard The Ocean Sing and Piper to start the second set (50 minutes between those two!). I love listening to this show, including the Bowie that ended the first set.

The second night started off OK and ended with some crazy jams. The second set consisted of four songs, just the type of show I love to see!

I have such fond memories of Phish shows and long to see them again. It’s not happening right now, but I’ve grabbed the first two SPAC shows already and listened to most of the first. From what I’ve heard, Mike is still on fire and the band sounds healthy and alive. It’s not nearly the same…but it’ll have to do. I’ll eventually burn all three shows, and may grab the Jones Beach shows as well as I’ve heard some good things. Man…I miss this stuff…….

Mariano Rivera – Oh No

Posted in Blog, Reflection, Yankees on May 5, 2012 by slateman

GOAT Indeed (Al Bello/Getty Images)


I avoided the typical pun headline although I did think about using one. This one has taken some time to settle in. No Mo? No Jorge? Andy isn’t back yet. The Core 4 is now just Jete. And…let me take a moment to say that Jete is the fucking man right now. It is so much fun watching him hit lately. Let’s hope he can keep this going. Shut those naysayers up.

Back to Mariano. Oh man…now, he says he’ll be back. Initially I figured he was done. DONE. However, there’s always been something about Mo. I’ve never seen a player so cool. He could blow a 3-run lead and it wouldn’t bother him a bit. He’d come back the next day all chill. Will he be back? I don’t know the severity of the injury but the more I think about it, maybe I’m wrong. He’s not done. If he comes back, can he be as dominating? I think this guy is a machine, a term we’ve used repeatedly over the past 17 years. And if he has the drive, which he appears to, I see no reason why he wouldn’t come back. Of course, my dreams of another World Series are maybe a little romantic, but now THAT would be the way to end it. Andy->Mo, Jorge throwing out the first pitch, a 4-for-4 day for Jete? OK, now I’m getting a little exaggerated.

I’m 36 years old. I have been watching the Yankees, and remember watching them, for almost 30 years now. I have no plans on stopping. For fans like that, seeing a player like Mo go down is a big deal. It means a lot for our playoff aspirations. It means a lot for Robertson (= awesome) and whoever ends up being the 7th-inning man. But it means a lot for the face of NY, for who we are. I may attribute too much weight to things like this but the few of you reading, if you are a fan…you know precisely what I’m talking about. And don’t get me started on the day Jete retires. That will be a day unlike any other since…Mattingly? I can say now, without a doubt, Jete is the biggest Yankee player since Mantle. DiMaggio before him. Gehrig and Ruth before him. Stats aside, with leadership, durability, confidence…if Jete is not top-5, you need to rethink stuff. (Who would be in the final spot? Yogi? Whitey? Mo???) He’s been the face of the Yankees for a long time. Oh, and I probably mentioned, he’s the fucking man. (batting .404 as of this writing)

R.I.P. – Adam Yauch

Posted in Blog, Music, Reflection on May 5, 2012 by slateman

R.I.P. - MCA

Have you ever seen a film and identified with a character? Have you watched something and strangely felt that you were that character? This happens in videogames, sure, but even in movies or books, you may really connect with someone as though the tale were being told through your eyes.

Maybe that’s absurd, but hear me out. Back in ’86 when I was in elementary school, a friend lent me License To Ill. An impressionable youth, I loved the attitude and lyrical nonsense of the album. It is the soundtrack of 5th and 6th grade, really. As the years passed, the band grew stronger, and their musicianship stood out on Check Your Head and particularly on Ill Communication. Just listen to M.C.A.’s bass on Futterman’s Rule. They were no longer just rappers; Beastie Boys matured into something so much more. Their efforts outside the studio and stage reflect this. And of the three members, I felt a strange ‘camaraderie’ with MCA. That probably makes no sense, but as I listened to the Beastie Boys, I was MCA, rapping alongside Ad-Rock and Mike D. Now, this is no stalker strangeness…it’s no different than reading a book and feeling like YOU are Frodo or Lestat or Katniss. I just identified with his words more, his style more.

Just a few weeks ago I busted out those two albums and listened on the way to work. I remember every word of Get It Together even after almost 20 years. It had been a while since I listened to those discs. And after Ill Communication I lost interest. Hello Nasty didn’t feel like a progression to me, rather the opposite. Now, 15 years after that album, I haven’t followed them in quite some time. However, as they were a big part of both my elementary school years as well as my college years, it truly saddens me to lose such an instrumental member of my memories. To his family, friends, fans and supporters, you will be missed.

R.I.P. MCA…Your shit be cookin’.

Marcus Aurelius: Genius

Posted in Blog, Reflection on April 11, 2012 by slateman

Genius

SSX Demo! Just Like Old Times! (This Gets Deep…)

Posted in Blog, Games, Reflection on February 24, 2012 by slateman
The First SSX

SSX!

So, way back in 2000, I got a PS2 and one of the first titles I nabbed was SSX. It was a good time for the ‘extreme sports’ genre as they called it then. The game remains one of the most solid and original titles to come from the era. I don’t care if there were other snowboarding games…SSX made it sexy, fun and man those huge jumps rocked. There were two areas where I could get ??? listed. Sadly, my landlord’s kid borrowed the game (and GT4?) and I never got it back.

Fast forward to 2012. OK, I’m 36 now, but to think it’s been 12 years is almost sickening. There’s something massively disturbing about that fact. How far I had come from where I had grown up, yet how long ago that was. Cliché time…I felt like I knew so much then. I digress.

OK, whatever, it was a long goddamn time ago. I’d played SSX Tricky and put a lot of hours into SSX3 on the original Xbox. However, even That was a while ago. (edit: 9 yrs) I never liked On Tour as much. So…when a new relaunched brand was announced, I was interested. I grabbed the demo. I started writing this stupid blog.

SSX!

New SSX!

Wow…This is pretty cool. The tutorial song is…wow, I don’t know. Reminds me of some different time. I start playing the actual game. It’s…it’s…exactly the same, really. What IS THIS?

I actually felt a tinge of nostalgia for times past while playing SSX. It was strange. It was 2000 all over again. Living in the bodega in Bay Shore. The debauchery (heh). Those white couches and that glass table. Coming home from lunch w/ Mat and…what was his name? He was shaped like a pear. He was a nice guy. It was strange. It was exactly what I wanted from an SSX game and that game was 12 years ago. Sure, it’s HD, everything looks and sounds better than that old piece of shit TV I had…but it was like old times and I loved every second of it. I even loved that tutorial song, for some reason.

OK, I return to being a husband, a father, a teacher. However, there’s something so beautiful about that time. It wasn’t all perfect, I’m not that delusional. It was just pretty beautiful (and the Yankees had just won their third World Series in a row…that may have something to do with it.)

/rant

I have absolutely no clue why I enjoy this song so much…